Today, several representatives from each of our customer projects joined us in a workshop. It was inspiring to meet such incredible people who see the opportunity to make India a better place and act on it.
Arunodhaya was the first organization to present. Virgil is a woman who, in 1992, dedicated her life to reducing child slavery and labor. Her stories are a mix of heartbreaking and encouraging. Can you imagine someone in this day and age saying that child labor is just a fact of life? That comment was made to her recently by someone questioning her work. Unreal. She and her organization work closely with slums to ensure that children are given the chance to be children, to play and to learn, be safe from sexual and physical abuse, and not be forced into labor. They have met with such success that if someone in one of the 100+ slums sees a child being taken out of school or treated inappropriately, they contact the center to intervene. Virgil is passionate and strong, and her mission to save children is a great success. They are guaranteeing the future of India through their work with the youth.
The next presenter was Srini from Hand in Hand. This is a massive organization that started in 2002, initially focused also on the reduction of child labor, now expanding into many areas of empowerment. One of their great areas of success is with self-help groups for women. This isn’t what an American thinks of with self-help (I sort of pictured them sitting around reading Dr. Phil books). It is women sharing resources and building financial opportunities to support their families. They are provided with education, business support, and care to move them from below the poverty line via B2B opportunities. The goal of the overall program is to provide 5 million jobs by 2020. Think about that: the organization will be only 18 years old at that time, yet having that kind of impact. Wow.
The third organization is the one I will work with, Villgro. This group was started in 2001 to match social entrepreneurs with funding opportunities. Each funding recipient must be focused on building business to improve health care, reduce poverty, or increase education in rural areas. For example, one of their recipients had a plan for how to better test for anemia in pregnant women. Anemia affects 60% of Indian women, and rural women are particularly at risk for childbirth complications, including death, due to undiagnosed anemia. These rural women can’t afford to take a full day to travel to a larger city where their blood can be tested, and they strongly fear contracting diseases from needles, so they tend to ignore the risk. The Villgro organzation funded and advised a start-up in developing an ocular scanner that has 98% accuracy for measuring anemia, and it means the ladies can be tested right in their village. Another recipient was for a stovetop manufacturer for rural cooking that reduces the consumption of firewood by 50%. This not only cut firewood costs and pollution in half, it also greatly reduces the chance of lung disease for the restaurant cooks. Villgro supports many start-ups like this not just with funds, but also with mentorship and business expertise. It is an honor to work with Guns, Heera, and the rest of their team of innovators.
The final project is Bhumi. This is a very new volunteer organization, founded in 2006 by Dr. Prahalathan KK. He wanted to start an initiative for young people in India to volunteer within their communities. They have grown into one of the largest youth volunteer groups in all of India. The average age of their volunteer is 22-23 years old. That made me feel so old! At that age, my priorities were less inspiring to say the least. Their focus is on educational opportunities for underprivileged or orphaned children, and on improving the environment. For the children, the program is supplemental to their daily school work, focused on keeping them in school and making it to college or finding careers that help them escape poverty. For the environment, the volunteers participate in activities such as planting trees, sweeping parks, cleaning beaches, etc. All volunteers are under the age of 30. The program builds civic pride in a young generation.
A commonality among the leaders who spoke is humility. These are individuals who are positively affecting the lives of literally millions of people, yet they take no personal credit. They are proud of their teams and the overall achievements, and seek no personal praise for all that has been accomplished. I am humbled to be around these people. I can’t wait to learn and share more!